Rachel Cypher's IGHERT Experience

Interdisciplinarity & Professional Development: Anthropology Graduate Student Rachel Cypher reflects on her experience in the Andrew Mellon Foundation's IGHERT pilot program

January 13, 2016

By Rachel Cypher 

From left: Soy plant; Rachel Cypher; catlle round-up in Argentina.
Credit: R. Cypher.

For the past year I have been a Fellow of the Andrew Mellon Foundation´s Integrative Graduate Humanities Education Research and Training (IGHERT) pilot program. The idea was hatched at the Humanities Institute here at UCSC through the inspired foresight of Irena Polic, Tyrus Miller, and Nathaniel Deutsch, and continued in partnership with three other Humanities Institutes in Milwaukee, Australia, and Germany. 

As the IGHERT pilot program enters its second year, I reflect back on what has already been an extraordinary opportunity and rich learning experience.

I entered the Anthropology Doctoral program at UC Santa Cruz interested in researching the advance of industrial soy plantations in the pampas of Argentina. Under the extraordinary mentorship of my advisor, Professor Anna Tsing, I learned about how one might combine feminist studies and the cultural politics of nature in order to ask questions, for example, “How do the social lives of plants guide landscape management, which in turn facilitates particular struggles over class and race?” To start with this question invites curiosity and transforms one’s commitments to scholarship, and to the world. It is with these sorts of commitments in mind that it is not an exaggeration to say that during the course of my studies, both Professor Tsing and UCSC’s legacy have transformed my understanding of the world and of my place in it. 

It is also not an exaggeration to say that it is UCSC that makes this possible: UCSC’s continuing commitment to feminist studies and to the cultural politics of nature molded these questions and made them possible in the world. Indeed, this is a testament to the Anthropology department and to the Humanities department, which has nurtured programs such as the History of Consciousness, and which has encouraged radical thinking and interdisciplinarity. The IGHERT program is another testament of UCSC and the Humanities Department to the continuing commitment to, on the one hand, foster interdisciplinarity, and on the other to purposefully train graduate students. 

The IGHERT kick-off meeting was held in Santa Cruz in September 2014. We prepared by reading several shared texts and by creating a project presentation to be video-taped. The eight Fellows, sixteen faculty, four program advisers, and our Coordinator Irena Polic gathered to both set the agenda and to imagine a new one.

We were united by two threads running through the Fellowship: (1) the mentoring program itself and (2) the theme of our pilot, “Indigeneity in an Expanded Field.” In this first gathering I was exposed to a global network of scholars from a wide range of disciplines, to an emergent conversation about indigeneity, and to various exercises and training modules geared toward my own professionalization. I was also exposed indirectly to the kind of things that might often happen behind the scenes when professors gather to discuss a scholarly theme and to create new agendas. We emerged with excitement for the two years to come. 

During the first year, we maintained contact in various virtual forums with which we are still experimenting. In the second meeting, held in Canberra, Australia in August 2015, we gathered again with the same purpose, and prepared in much the same way as for the first, but with a better sense of our own projects and of what we might gain from framing them for an interdisciplinary audience. Perhaps one of the most successful events in this second meeting was a public presentation to an audience of scholars and students.  

It is in this respect that the timeline of the project has been an emergent topic and a great boon; by extending over a 2 year period the project allows Fellows to expand and develop their projects, and for Fellows and Mentors to develop and nurture their mentoring relationships.

I have learned so much from the program and I can identify at least two important areas of my own development thus far: (1) project translation and (2) professional development.

Project translation, another way of saying interdisciplinarity, is important to me because of my commitment to the Humanities, as well as practically important with regards to how to be a scholar. Although Anthropology is my home department, in the IGHERT I have had to make myself and my project communicable to a wide range of scholars and disciplines, from History to Literature to Political Science, and so on. Through informal conversations, video-taped presentations, seminars, and formal presentations to wider audiences of interdisciplinary scholars and students, I am learning how to translate or frame my project and my questions so that I might be able to communicate with various disciplines. Additionally, the IGHERT theme - indigeneity - has exposed me to a wide range of readings and commitments. Concretely, I have used these readings to frame some of the theoretical commitments embedded within my own research project.

Secondly, the explicit attention to - and one-on-one mentoring in - professional development is useful for me because it is an agenda that is usually implicit within my own scholarly development. From interactions with professors, to the guided creation of an online presence, to the public presentation of my work, I am learning how to be a scholar in my own right. By being introduced into professional networks - and, of course, learning by example - I have been able to see how my own graduate training is not just in the “traffic of ideas,” but also in the interactions between persons at all levels. 

Overall, the IGHERT program has been an extraordinary opportunity. I look forward to this coming year when we will convene two more times, in Milwaukee and in Germany. If this past year is any indication of what is to come, I can only imagine how much more I will learn and grow. I am enormously grateful to UCSC and to the Humanities Institute here for making the program possible, and I hope that it reflects a commitment to scholarship and to graduate training that we will continue to see more of in the future.